Getting Real With Tyra Banks
Confession time: I’m a closet Tyra Banks fan. Why wouldn’t I be? She’s beautiful, intelligent, and ambitious. She’s the physical embodiment of the phrase “more than a pretty face.” Tyra has proven that she can pretty much do it all and look fabulous while doing it.
Maybe that’s why I found myself so frustrated with the fifth season premiere episode of her self-titled talk show. Tyra’s “Real Hair Day” left me in dismay. All because of semantics. You see, when Tyra announced she’d be sporting her real hair on her program, I conflated “real” with “natural.” And “natural,” I assumed would mean Tyra’d be rocking an unaltered hair texture. Which, from all appearances, she wasn’t.
I suppose I shouldn’t nitpick. I shouldn’t be disappointed. As Angela Bronner Helm indicated on BVHairTalk.com, this is a huge step for Ty Ty. The unabashed queen of lacefront wigs exposing her own tresses is a big deal! To expect more would be ridiculous:
“Tyra used the word “real” because her hair is definitely chemically enhanced. Now, you can’t expect Tyra to come out with no weave AND an Afro, right? ”
Honestly, the way the show was being hyped, I kinda did.
I held out hope throughout the episode: when Tyra appeared with her hair slick straight and soaking wet I had a sinking feeling but still hoped she would begin to address the issues behind black women and hair. I hoped she’d at least explain — “oh, by the by, I use a relaxer to achieve this texture,” or “I’ve had that Brazilian straightening,” or said something to give context to her hair’s appearance.
But instead, she stuck closely to a self-congratulatory script about weaves and extensions, and proceeded to have her hairdresser blow out her hair on television.
Often on ethnically diverse message boards whenever black women’s hair comes up, I notice readers of other ethnicities questioning why. “What’s the problem? It’s just hair!” Or, “my hair’s curly too — what’s the big deal?” For many women of color, it’s a bigger deal than you may assume. For some of us, it can never be “just hair.”
The complicated issues behind black women and hair date back to the days when the color of your skin and the texture of your hair determined the labor you had to do, and your proximity to the plantation house. For centuries, women of color have resorted to chemical means to alter their kinky, coily hair into a semblance of artificial straightness. I had hoped that Tyra would at least address that, or feature an array of guests with varied hair textures and lengths. Why not feature a woman with an afro? Or with really short hair? Alas, that wasn’t to be. Not this episode.
But I’m not gonna give up on Tyra, not just yet. There’s always next season.